Category Archives: Annotated Games

Amateur Versus Master – Game Five

This game is from the final round of the 2011 Golden Knights Correspondence Chess Championship. Because John and I agreed to email our moves to each other instead of using snail mail, this game finished well ahead of the other ones in this section. The rest of my games in this section are still in the openings or are transitioning to the middle games.

John is the lowest rated opponent that I have in this section. I lost playing the Black side of the Benko Gambit. This loss, combined with a few other ones, has convinced me to stop playing the Benko Gambit in correspondence chess. I used to win whenever my opponent fully accepted my gambit. Lately, I have been losing whenever White shoves that passed pawn down my a file!

I am the only non master in this section. Therefore, I have no delusions of grandeur about winning this section. I am simply trying to get an even score and this loss will not help me any.

On move number 6 I decided to change up my usual move order because I was hoping to confuse my opponent and thus gain a psychological advantage. This almost worked. John did get confused a little, but I lost anyway.

Whenever White allows Black to capture the Bishop that is on f1 White gives up the right to castle. This is where Black gets his compensation for the sacrificed pawn. I am no longer able to keep my advantage in this variation.

Black completes his basic development on move number 11 and then White begins his assault by moving that passed a pawn down my throat. I still need to find Black’s best reply to that.

By move  number 14 Black is  bringing his rooks and knights over to the Queenside to launch his counter attack. White is going to break open the Center.

On move  number 15 White anchors a Knight on b5 and this Knight creates problems for me for quite a while afterwards.

Looking back at move number 16, I now doubt that trading my fianchettoed Bishop on c3 was the best move for Black. Allowing White to get a pawn on c4 created many problems for me. From move number 21 on Black is losing.

Mike Serovey

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Back to Basics: Mere Development

There have already been many articles here at The Chess Improver on the importance of timely and harmonious development in the opening as vital principles for obtaining a decent game. I recently played a game that I thought was a thematic illustration of simply developing all the way to victory.

My opponent as Black played a dubious “Knight on the rim” opening idea that I’d never faced before. I simply developed normally and by move 11 already had a lead in development and a better Pawn structure. In the absence of early tactical tricks and advantageous Pawn structures, a lead in development is a big deal in chess. After move 11, White has three minor pieces out, and the Queen and two Rooks have obvious places to be developed at will without any barrier. Contrast this situation with Black’s: Black has only two minor pieces out, and although one Rook is “developed”, in reality it is in a position of weakness where it can be attacked easily. And worst of all, the Queen side is not only not developed, but also it is not clear how and when it can be: the light-squared Bishop cannot emerge without at least first making a Pawn move to free it.

Black’s 11th move, a Pawn move did open up the way for development of the light-squared Bishop, but White developed the Queen. Black’s terrible 12th move just blocked it back in, as well as weakened the d6 Pawn. The game is already lost at this point. White already had enough forces developed to immediately begin winning material, by developing a Rook to back up the Queen. After White’s 13th move, let’s do some counting:

  • White has 5 developed pieces: Knight, two Bishops, Queen, Rook.
  • Black has 3 developed pieces: Knight, Bishop, Rook.

After Black lost an exchange, White continued developing. After move 24:

  • White has 3 developed pieces: Queen, two Rooks.
  • Black has 1 developed piece: Queen (the Queen side Rook and Bishop are still at home).

Here I somewhat slacked in my conversion to a win. Objectively I could have prevented Black from developing the final two pieces and gone for mate against the King, but instead, I chose a slow plan of advancing my passed e-Pawn. This plan allowed Black to develop the final two pieces, albeit very passively and defensively, but it was a simple way to squeeze to the point of being able to force a trivially winning ending. But the ending never happened, because Black simply blundered a Bishop away.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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A Scrappy Example of Psychology and Luck in an Ending

In the sixth (and final) round of the Pittsburgh Chess Club Championship, I played one of those unfortunately scrappy games I have been playing recently. From an easily winning position, I carelessly threw away the win to reach an ending that (to me) was obviously a draw. However, I kept playing for a win, hoping for a swindle, aided by the fact that my opponent had very little time on the clock and appeared to have spent a lot of energy earlier, and now appeared to be still nervous (indicating that he was not certain, unlike me, that the ending was a dead draw). Our subsequent play was sloppy, to say the least, but I got the win (aided by my incessant blitzing that left him in fact losing on time in the final position), and ended up just catching the leader to tie for first place in the tournament, to become one of two 2014 Pittsburgh Chess Club co-champions. I am happy that I achieved this, but know full well that I got there with a lot of luck in all the rounds that I aim to replace in the future with new skill (for example, every ending that I didn’t do right, I have studied after the fact).

Flaws aside, I think it’s useful to see how, amidst imperfect play, having a possible swindling winning idea is useful, because with luck it might actually work out. We are human beings, not computers, so there will always be some luck involved in human chess. I’d like to think there is a little bit of skill in pursuing a swindling idea, latching onto interesting aspects of a position and trying to make use of them.

In the sport of chess you have to do what you can even after misplaying an earlier part of the game. The swindle involved making moves that were risky or had obvious (to me) defenses, but part of the art of swindling involves trying to guess that your opponent might not see what you see and setting possible traps.

The ending

We reached a position with equal material: Two Rooks and one Bishop and four Pawns on each side. As White, I had a single b-Pawn and three King side Pawns. Black had an a-Pawn and b-Pawn but a fragmented King side with an f-Pawn and h-Pawn. So I concentrated on hoping to make something of Black’s weak King side before Black’s Queen side majority became a factor.

So one observation I immediately made was that perhaps I could make progress by getting my f-Pawn to f6 to make Black’s King inactive, and also to semi-trap it and bring my Rooks over to the half-open g-file, or even to try to win the h6 Pawn. Or try to round up the f7 Pawn. Meanwhile, having the move, I had an opportunity to block Black’s a-Pawn on a7 and artificially isolate the b5 Pawn. So I played Ra6, an active-looking move attacking Black’s h6 Pawn. I did this even though I knew Black could play the simple and effective …Bb6, because I had to try something. I gambled that my opponent would not want to move the centralized Bishop on d4 “backwards” as defense, but would want to keep it there to attack my undefended b2 Pawn. Yes, psychology at work.

I gambled further by not taking the offered h6 Pawn in return for my b2 Pawn, because simplification, even though objectively this was clearly the “best” move, because the “best” move doesn’t mean much if it only reduces swindling opportunities in a dead draw, and again because of psychology: my opponent had not played …Bb6 in the previous move, and probably would not play it again, and therefore would be playing the passive …Kg7 instead. And that happened. And I continued with advancing my f-Pawn to f5.

There was some risk in playing these suboptimal moves: a good defense would have left me fighting on the worse end of a draw. But I needed to win this game, and had plenty of time on the clock, so I was willing to fall back on defending a draw if anything did not work out.

Then I offered to trade our opposite-colored Bishops, by unprotecting my Bishop while moving my Rook up to “threaten” to come to the g-file. There was no real threat, but as I hoped, my opponent eagerly swapped Bishops, thinking (correctly) that this would neutralize the “attack”. However, objectively, the trade only benefited me. I got rid of a strong Bishop and lost my weak one.

A couple more gambles, and I made progress, losing my b-Pawn in return for his a-Pawn but now having one Rook on the g-file and one Rook on the 7th rank. Optically it looks a little scary, but that’s an illusion. Nevertheless, when an opponent is short on time, creating illusions can be useful.

After more passive moves by Black, I achieved my final dream position: Pawn on f6, Rook on a7, Rook on g7, about to win the f7 Pawn. It’s amazing how this fantasy position I had imagined early on actually came about. Still a draw, of course. But Black remained passive, and after a trade of Rooks, we actually ended in a Rook and Pawn ending that was winning for me. Unfortunately, at move 42, with the win in sight, I hastily made a passive move myself (Rg4) that threw away my win. I realized a few move later that the game was a truly dead draw. But I kept playing. A few seconds before his flag fell, my opponent made the only losing move, trading Rooks into a lost King and Pawn ending (two Pawns to one). Tragic, but in this tournament, where none of us were Masters, and endgame knowledge is weak, this stuff happens.

The moral of the story:

  • Endgame knowledge is very important. I’m not going to lie: I’m currently remedying my defects in the endgame (better late than never). I’m tired of displaying my games in which my weakness is obvious.
  • Even if you know an ending should be a draw, press on because you might get lucky.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Two Positional Pawn Sacrifices: One Accidental, One Missed

In the fifth (of six) round of the Pittsburgh Chess Championship, I had an interesting game as White in which there were bouts of material inequality.

The accidental sacrifice

Out of the opening, my opponent lost a Pawn that I went hunting for.

In retrospect, I should have chosen not to go hunting for that Pawn in the first place: it was a doubled c-Pawn on c5 that was not worth the trouble of going into contortions to win. It turns out that winning the Pawn did leave me with a large advantage, but one that required alert play to maintain.

What happened was that my opponent tried to get long-term defensive chances by forcing a trade of his Bishop for my Knight on c3 resulting in my having an isolated a-Pawn as well as isolated, doubled c-Pawns on c2 and c3, so that basically, I won a doubled c-Pawn at the cost of having my own doubled c-Pawn.

Objectively, I had a large advantage and there were many ways for me to proceed, but I faltered, became passive, and Black ended up getting huge compensation, pressuring both my a-Pawn as well as my terrible c-Pawn on c3, that made the initial Pawn loss almost feel like an accidental positional sacrifice! In fact, Black could have regained the Pawn with a great game, but also faltered, resulting in a time-scramble of a scrappy ending that led to my swindling a winning ending but then not having enough mental reserves left to finish the job (that ending may be the subject of a separate post).

The unplayed sacrifice

The interesting thing is that after the game, we both agreed that I missed a great chance to immediately sacrifice a Pawn back for a huge advantage. I had definitely considered it during the game, but in a turn of mental passivity I had thought that I might as well play more quietly (which could have sufficed, but I made further errors). It was a psychological as well as technical error.

The sacrifice c4 would have been very strong. Here’s why, in terms of general principles as well as the concrete situation on the board:

  • Whether Black takes the Pawn with the Queen or the b5 Pawn, the result (after a Queen trade if appropriate) is that Black’s retaking Pawn on b5 would have been diverted into a weak doubled c-Pawn on c4, and also give White a very strong outside passed a-Pawn.
  • Giving up the useless c-Pawn on c3 would have opened up lines for White’s dark-squared Bishop, especially important since Black no longer had any Bishops.
  • Opening up the b-file would also have been advantageous to White, who was well ahead in development and ready to swing the King Rook over to the Queen side if appropriate.
  • If Black did not take with the Queen, the situation is even worse for Black, because with the Queens still on the board, Black’s Queen becomes tied to defending the regained c-Pawn while the Black King remains in danger, uncastled and unable to castle.
  • Since it’s just giving a Pawn back, it’s not even “really” a sacrifice anyway.
  • It’s almost certain that White will regain this weak Pawn on c4 anyway that is either unprotected (in the case of a Queen trade) or barely protected (by just the Queen).

There was only up side, no down side, to this sacrifice.

It is unfortunate to report that despite knowing all this, I did not play this positional Pawn sacrifice that was crying out to be played, but chess life goes on. I hope that if you encounter a position like this in one of your own games, and consider the points made above, you will not think twice before happily giving up a terrible Pawn for a great position!

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Using a Lead in Development

Getting a lead in development, by being efficient about how we develop our pieces, is the main aim of the opening.

How can you be efficient about development? For a start, think about how you can mobilise all of your pieces quickly, not just one or two. Think about where you can move your pieces so that they are doing something that influences the important central squares. Don’t make the common beginner’s error of moving the same piece more than once in the opening, unless it is essential. Think about where your king would be safest and make that happen as part of your opening strategy.

The game below is a classic example of what can happen if one side gets a lead in development out of the opening. Take a look at the position after White’s 12th move. White’s opening has not been a great success. His king is still stuck in the centre and he is 2 moves away from castling. In contrast, Black has castled his king to safety and has all his minor pieces ready for action and is 1 move away from connecting his rooks. To take advantage of the lead in development, Black needs to move fast. He realises that, to attack the enemy king before it has the chance to castle, he has to open lines to the king, and he invests a piece to do that as quickly as possible. By the 19th move, White’s centre is completely destroyed, and it is only a matter of time before Black’s better developed pieces move in to finish White off.

Angus James

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A Fantasy Game, Move By Move: White Opens With Fifteen Pawn Moves In A Row!

The 18th century chess pioneer Philidor famously said, “The Pawns are the soul of chess”. I love my Pawns and admit to a fondness for pushing them, although the balance between aggression and overextension can be tricky.

Recently, I was daydreaming when an imaginary chess game started forming in my mind, in which White started off by playing six Pawn moves in a row. Intrigued, I came up with the best plausible fantasy game I could invent that featured as many Pawn moves in a row by White as possible that were not complete garbage leading to a terrible position. I made it to fifteen moves. I thought it would be fun to share this fantasy game here. Here is a blow-by-blow summary, with the full annotated game following. I’ve provided two narratives: one is move by move but the other is Pawn by Pawn, telling the story from each Pawn’s perspective.

Reminder: this game fragment is for entertainment purposes. Don’t go out and start all your games by playing fifteen Pawn moves in a row!

Move by move

1 d4

A good opening move, gaining space and controlling the central e5 square as well as the c5 square, and enabling developing of the dark Bishop.

2 c4

A logical followup to d4, controlling the central square d5.

3 f3

An aggressive way to prepare to play e4 with a lock on the entire center because of the double control of d5.

4 d5

Invading Black’s territory, gaining space.

5 e4

Completing the large center. White has made only Pawn moves but stands better in this Benoni formation.

6 cxd5

The standard aggressive recapture. exd5 was also possible.

7 g4!?

White should have started developing pieces here, to maintain a clear advantage. The threat to push back Black’s Knight is not dangerous to Black.

Black’s Pawn move …h5 was poor and justified White’s play.

8 g5

Attacking the Knight as planned.

9 h4?!

There was no reason for White to enter defensive mode and doubly protect the g5 Pawn, which was not under threat. White should have begun developing pieces.

10 a4

A standard defensive move to prevent Black’s …b5 in the Benoni.

11 f4?!

White is out of control, continuing to try to attack, now aiming to go to f5 and f6.

I gave Black a dubious move …a5 in order to illustrate what can happen if Pawn advances are not dealt with.

12 f5!

White continues, planning to push back Black’s Bishop with f6.

Black should already start thinking about possibly sacrificing a piece for two Pawns in order to forge further ahead in development as compensation.

13 exf5

Recapture.

I made Black play poorly with …Na6 to give White more Pawn moves. The interesting thing is that even if Black played well at this point, White is not actually lost despite the extravagant play.

14 f6

Attacking Black’s Bishop on g7. If the Bishop retreats to f8, White has a totally won game already.

15 gxf6

And after having won a Knight for two Pawns, White has run out of reasonable Pawn moves. The only Pawn that can move is the b Pawn, but it is obviously not going anywhere.

Miraculously, White has a slight advantage after playing nothing but Pawn moves for fifteen moves in a row. This is not typical, but I hope Philidor would have been amused.

The lives of the eight White Pawns

a-Pawn

I advanced to a4 to discourage Black’s b-Pawn from advancing to b5.

b-Pawn

I stayed home and did nothing.

c-Pawn

I advanced to c4 to control the d5 center square, and I protected my neighboring d-Pawn who advanced to d5.

d-Pawn

I advanced to d4 to control the e5 center square, and I advanced to d5 to attack more squares in enemy territory (c6 and e6).

e-Pawn

I advanced to e4 to control the d5 center square, and further protect my neighboring d-Pawn when it advanced to d5. I helped my neighboring f-Pawn advance to f5.

f-Pawn

I advanced all the way to f5, then with the help of my neighboring g-Pawn, made it to f6, attacking Black’s Bishop on g7 and getting very close to Black’s King.

g-Pawn

I advanced all the way to g5 to attack Black’s Knight on f6, then helped my neighboring e-Pawn get to f6.

h-Pawn

I provided extra support to my neighboring g-Pawn on g5.

The annotated fantasy game fragment

Franklin Chen

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Imitation, The Sincerest Form of Flattery

There is an old adage among writers. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Copying your opponent’s moves in the opening is well-known as a poor strategy. It’s common enough among novices and beginners. Sometimes even intermediate players do it, like my opponent in this turn-based Internet game played this week. I’ll admit I was surprised by the copycat behavior. My opponent had white, so he had the advantage of first move. This was the Internet equivalent of correspondence chess, with a time limit of up to three days per move. My opponent still appeared to run out of ideas quickly.

My opponent wasted a tempo from the start with 3.a3. When you go into a symmetrical position as White, it’s best not to go into it with a lost tempo. All else being equal, that gives your opening advantage entirely away. In this case, White got no compensation for that lost tempo.

I would expect an intermediate player to see that the ensuing exchanges would work to my advantage after the tempo loss and very likely lead to a queen-less middle game. That was definitely my plan. Trade the queens on d1, dislodging the white king. Then develop my bishop and castle long, forcing my opponent to pin a piece and lose another tempo.

This game is an example of what can happen after several wasted tempi. Rather than developing counter-play on the queenside, White invested two tempi trying to win back a pawn, one of my doubled pawns on f6 and f7. I allowed the doubled pawns, since it opened the g-file for possible use by my rook on h8. After investing those tempi, White wasn’t able to capture the f7 pawn. Later with 18.g4, White wasted another tempo chasing my bishop to its intended square. 18…Bg6 was planned to prepare the central pawn thrust to d3.

There is no point in making a move that forces your opponent to make the very same move s/he obviously intends to make on their next turn. White should have noticed that g4 was fruitless and looked for a move that would complicate my plans or make an attempt at counter-play. With my pawn on d4, poised to advance to d3 once the bishop added support, White should have been alarmed about its advance. The closer a central pawn gets to the opposite side of the board, the more it grows in power. I would have considered Rd2 with the idea of doubling the rooks on the d-file, Kb1 to increase king safety, or even a4 hoping for some queenside counter-play.

The position after 16…cxd5 is interesting to evaluate. White was down a minor piece and a pawn. I’d just taken on the responsibility of an IQP. My pawn structure was inferior. But I had more active pieces and the initiative. I intended to press that IQP forward immediately. White has just lost the best blockader of an IQP, his last knight.

I especially liked the outcome of my IQP. 24…d2#, the white king mated by a pawn move.

Glenn Mitchell

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The Human Problem Of Not Mentally Switching Gears During A Long Game

On a dark Tuesday evening, in the fourth round of the ongoing Pittsburgh Chess Club Championship, I played and won a four-hour game that I have to confess to being more embarrassed about than many of my losses.

Unfortunately, sometimes that happens, to all of us. I could write it off fatalistically as “it happens”, but this is supposed to be The Chess Improver, and I believe that all of us can in fact continue to improve our play, myself included!

Sometimes we fool ourselves and don’t want to take responsibility for our poor play. Yes, there is such a thing as fatigue or a random brain glitch, but what about if we are systematically falling short? I think that as in marathon running, the late stages of a chess game, precisely when we are most tired, our true weaknesses reveal themselves. When we are feeling strong, our weaknesses may be masked. So I am taking a particular interest in correcting problems that occur in a long game.

Outline of the game

The game started out with my playing reasonably well, achieving what seemed to be a slight advantage as Black, defending an attack on my King in an Open Sicilian. At move 18, I had three choices to consider to begin a counterattack. I spent considerable energy looking at the options. One of the real drawbacks of playing the Sicilian as Black, I have found, is that to avoid getting killed you really have to do a lot of calculations, and unfortunately, as in this game, that left me with diminished mental reserves later in the game.

My 18th move was actually fine, but at move 19, I panicked and decided I had enough of defending and wanted to bail out with a Queen trade. To my surprise, my opponent did not enter what would have been a favorable Queen trade for him, but tried to continue the attack! He lashed out with a series of sacrifices that were all unsound and the result was a dead lost position an exchange and Pawn down.

Here’s when I started playing really strangely. I was unable to switch gears into “winning mode”. At the very moment at which I knew I had a won game, after 29 moves, I let down my guard and somehow stayed in “defensive mode”. I started worrying about various things, like defending my unimportant f7 Pawn, and my time starting to run low on the clock. I played totally aimlessly and horribly, and quickly found myself in a lost position after move 33.

Then in a freak stroke of luck, as I kept playing anyway, my opponent walked straight into a position in which I had an obvious perpetual check if I wanted it (and I would have taken it): except he then refused to allow the perpetual check and deviated into a horrific blunder, losing the game instantly. (I should also note that my opponent had really bad luck, as at the moment when he was drifting mentally and seemed to be taking a strange amount of time on his clock, he received a phone call, being the tournament director in charge of the chess club phone, which rang at the critical moment, distracting him for a couple of seconds as he buzzed someone into the entrance of the building!)

The main lesson

Based on my observations, we human beings have a problem with switching gears when the nature of a position changes. These are the moments when we must collect ourselves and deal with the new reality (whether it is knowing that one is now winning, or one is now losing). My belated playing on even when dead lost somehow did pay off, after all. But we must strive for better. I have thought hard about ways to improve my play and will experiment with them and share my progress (or lack of it) here in the future.

Chess engines don’t have this problem: give them a won position and they will easily convert. But we humans need special discipline in order to be able to stay focused during a long game.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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Going Off Piste

Going “off piste” or “off the beaten track” in the opening has its merits. For a start, you get your opponent thinking earlier, which is no bad thing if you’re fed up of 10-20 opening book moves being fired at you in the first 10 seconds of a game. You can explore the positions that occur after your opening at your leisure at home, while your opponent will most probably have to sweat at the board trying to fathom what the heck is going on in the position. At the very least you are going to get a time advantage, and that puts your opponent under pressure.

The opening after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 is very well-known. The most common moves here are by far 3.Bb5 (Ruy Lopez), 3.Bc4 (Italian Game), or 3.d4 (Scotch Opening), and to a lesser extent 3.Nc3 (Three Knights/Four Knights).

What about other options on move 3? Well, there are a number of reasonable alternatives to consider. Top of the list is perhaps the Ponziani (3.c3), which Carlsen has used as a surprise weapon. Or perhaps it isn’t that much of a surprise – he is becoming famed for his use of unpopular, but perfectly reasonable openings, with the aim of getting a playable position out of the opening, and just outplaying his opponents from an equal position in the middle game and/or ending. Below is an example of Carlsen’s use of the Ponziani:

Another line worth considering at this juncture is 3.Be2. This goes by the name of the Inverted Hungarian Opening. So called, because White’ s bishop on e2 resembles Black’s bishop on e7 in the Hungarian Defence. It doesn’t look like that much, but it seems fine. Below is a recent game from the Bronstein Memorial Open, which saw it adopted by a 2700+ player, Baadur Jobava. Presumably he didn’t fancy seeing his lower rated opponent’s opening preparation, and played something unexpected, but perfectly playable, and consequently won very quickly. A lesson to us all.

Angus James

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Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it: Total Restriction of Activity

In round 3 of the Pittsburgh Chess Club championship, I won a game in which the theme was total restriction of opponent activity. I have rarely played a game in which activity was so squashed, and thought it would be instructive to point out places where my opponent could have played more actively.

The opening struggle could have been sharper

The opening was a Trompowsky in which I as White got in an early d5 in response to c5, preparing for a Benoni Pawn structure bind against Black. The thematic mission for White against a Black Benoni structure: restrict all activity on all wings, and eventually launch a decisive King side attack.

A Benoni Pawn structure

Black made the mistake of passively agreeing to enter the Benoni Pawn structure, rather than taking advantage of White’s nonexistent piece development at move 9 by rapidly developing his Bishop to d6, which would have created a sharp struggle. White’s Pawn at d5 could have been treated as a target in this line.

Black’s Qb4+ and b5 idea

At move 11, I made an inaccurate move, but consistent with the theme of trying to restrict Black’s piece activity: I played Bd3 preventing Black’s light-squared Bishop from reaching f5. But I should have allowed that possibility, because that Bishop would have been a target for kicking around anyway. Instead, developing my own Bishop out early made it a potential target: Black could have immediately aimed to place a Knight on e5. I would have prevented this with f4, but at the cost of allowing Black to play Qb4+ making way for a b5 break attacking the still-fragile White c4 and d5 Pawn targets. In that case, I would have chosen to forfeit castling in order to keep the bind.

Note that if Black had played Qb4+ at move 11, not move 12 after the time-wasting f4, I would have allowed the b5 break and given up the d5 Pawn in exchange for superior development while Black wastes time with the Queen. It’s very interesting how tradeoffs change depending on the deletion of a pair of moves (White playing f4 and Black developing an additional piece with Nd7).

At move 13, I played f4, despite still lagging behind in development, because of the value of restricting Black from getting a Knight to e5. Again, Black could have played the Qb4+ idea, and again, forfeiting castling seems best, to neutralize the b5 threat.

Tactical oversight

I made an embarrassing tactical oversight on move 14, when I castled into a discovered check tactic with Black’s Nxd5! that would have left me with a worse position. But my opponent did not see it, and on the next pair of moves, we both missed it again.

My explanation is that I was in a hurry to castle. Recently, I have been punished for mindlessly developing and mindlessly castling rather than playing precisely in the face of concrete situations.

As for h3, there my idea was again to prevent Black’s light-squared Bishop from developing, to g4, but as mentioned before, it is not actually to Black’s benefit to develop this Bishop only to have it be traded off anyway. In fact, in this particular kind of position, the Bishop is doing fine on c8 as a defensive piece.

Beginning the attack, risking losing the bind?

After the opening phase, as I finally developed the Knight to c3, it was clear that Black had a very difficult game. I shut down Black’s Queen side play with a4 and a5.

On move 20, the question was, how to proceed? The problem in chess is that when you attack, invading your opponent’s territory, you risk two things:

  • Overextending with Pawn advances, creating holes that allow your opponent’s pieces to come back to life.
  • Allowing piece exchanges that are freeing and reduce your forces.

I calculated that immediate invasion with Nf5 was tactically justified. This freed Black a little bit, but it looked accurate to strike immediately rather than attempt to “prepare” further with invasion, because Black always had the option of seeking counterplay on the Queen side with b6 or b5. The tactical justification for the invasion was that the most natural way for Black to try freeing his position with Nd7 and Nh4 led to a forced sequence in which the temporary Pawn sacrifice f5 gave White a favorable position.

Was Nf5 the best idea, however? I don’t know exactly. But my perception was that to prepare more forces for the initial invasion required me to activate the undeveloped dark-squared Bishop and the Queen Rook, but trying to use these would allow Black to proceed with b6 or b5. Then again, the resulting position would also have been favorable to me on the half-open a-file and the game would have shifted to the Queen side. I chose to fight it out immediately on the King side instead.

I made a slip, and the bind could have disappeared!

By move 25, the win was in sight, but instead of maintaining the winning bind with the nice h4 sacrifice (which cannot be accepted), I played a “preparatory” move Qg4.

Timing is critical during an attack. Once in, you have to go all in. After having advanced my Pawn to g5, I risked having my f4 Pawn bind on e5 diverted, and in fact, Qg4 allowed Black the possibility of breaking free from the bind and establishing a Knight on e5. The resulting position would have been still difficult for Black, but the forced win would have been gone for White.

The final bind

Look at the position after 30 Nd5. I’ve rarely played a game that resulted in a position like this. Black’s pieces and Pawns can hardly move at all. Black’s Bishop on e7 cannot move, period. In the game, Black blundered in one move, but supposing Black just marked time and waited, you can see that White can just calmly play Bd2, Bc3, Qh5, Qf7, and pick off Black’s Pawn on f6 for victory. There is nothing Black can do to stop this plan, because of the total bind on the Queen side, center, and King side.

Mission accomplished (but not without cooperation from Black)!

Conclusion

Chess being a dynamic game, it is instructive to find the critical points during a game that seemingly features total domination. There was a tactical blunder by White in the opening, and also very interesting forcing lines, and at one point in the game, a slip by White could have let Black regroup with a difficult defense, rather than lose immediately.

The annotated game

Franklin Chen

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